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Going Bananas with HIV Prevention

Posted in Breakthroughs, News on Friday, March 19th, 2010 by Kelly - 16 Comments

It is true… a potent new HIV inhibitor derived from bananas may open the door to new treatments to prevent sexual transmission of HIV says the University of Michigan Medical School study published this week.

Banana may halt the spread of HIVScientists are taking a closer look at lectins, naturally occurring chemicals in plants, because of their ability to halt the chain reaction that leads to a wide array of infections. In this case, the banana lectin (BanLec) binds to a key HIV-1 protein opening the door to developing compounds that can prevent sexual transmission of HIV.

Sound a little far-fetched? It should be noted that drugs ranging from Quinine (used to treat malaria) to Taxol (an anti-tumor agent) are derived from plants.  Certainly we can’t forget that the powerful pain medication morphine comes from a plant.

The U-M team noted that some of the most promising compounds for inhibiting HIV transmission are agents that block the virus prior to integration into its target cell.

Michael D. Swanson, a doctoral student in the graduate program in immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School and lead author of the study, said “the problem with some HIV drugs is that the virus can mutate and become resistant, but that’s much harder to do in the presence of lectins.”

Therapies using BanLec could be cheaper to make than current anti-retroviral medications and BanLec may provide a wider range of protection. It works through a self-applied microbicide compound.

The authors of this study say that even a modest success with BanLec could save millions of lives. In a time of shrinking budgets for anti-retrovirals, the banana may truly hold promise for preventing infection.

So let’s hear it for one of our favorite fruits.

“On a traffic light green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it’s just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the hell did you get that banana at…”
~Mitch Hedberg

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